Yesterday, CNN and the Georgia Republican Party announced they’ll co-host a GOP debate sometime before our state’s March 6 primary. The exact date has yet to be determined, or at least made public, but the obvious question is: As long as it’s after the early states that get so much attention (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Nevada), will it matter?
The premise behind that question is that the early states will act to consolidate the Republican field well before March 6, and that “Super Tuesday” won’t be so super if a clear leader has emerged from the field. While that’s often been the case in past elections, there’s a chance the party’s rules this year will ensure that things are still up in the air by the time Georgia Republicans finally get to vote.
The Republican National Committee set two rules that are relevant here: First, any state that holds its primary or caucuses before Feb. 1, 2012, is subject to losing half of its delegates to the party’s nominating convention. Second, any state — other than Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — that holds its primary or caucuses before April 1 must award its delegates in proportion to the votes they get, rather than giving them all to the winner.
Now, clearly we still have a long time to go before any states hold their primaries and caucuses — and those states have many voters who are undecided and/or who will change their minds about the candidates between now and then. But just for kicks, let’s see how the race would stack up by March 6 if things went the way they stand today. (I’ve used state-specific data collected by Real Clear Politics and, when possible, averaged. For states that haven’t had polls taken in the past month, I used the RCP average of national polls — I know that’s far from ideal but, again, this is just a thought experiment.)
Given those parameters, the delegates awarded by the 11 states that will cast votes before March 6 could total something like this (depending on whether the RNC follows through with its threat to take away delegates from the too-early birds):
Herman Cain: 94 to 120
Mitt Romney: 93 to 105
Newt Gingrich: 43 to 52
Rick Perry: 21 to 26
Ron Paul: 16 to 19
Michele Bachmann: 9 to 11
Rick Santorum: 6
Jon Huntsman: 4
Again, these numbers are for illustrative purposes. But what they illustrate is that the race could very much be in flux by the time Georgia holds its televised debate and primary.
And while 10 states are scheduled to vote on Super Tuesday, Georgia could be the most important of them. Yes, Texas has twice as many delegates, but it’s also Rick Perry’s home turf. Depending on how his campaign goes from here, he may well stand to gobble up the lion’s share of Texas’ 155 delegates.
Georgia is next on the Super Tuesday list with 76 delegates, and the race could be very tight among the contenders. Maybe that will mean each candidate prefers to focus on a state he/she can more easily dominate. Or maybe it means Georgia will truly take a turn in the 2012 spotlight, at least for a few days.
So, what do y’all think? Was Georgia wise to wait until March and keep all of our delegates? Or should we have jumped the line to have an earlier, and possibly bigger, say?
– By Kyle Wingfield